Violation Transportation and the GoDaddy “Perfect Match”

Last night’s Super Bowl featured an interesting ad, sponsored by GoDaddy.com. GoDaddy, a perennial envelope pusher in what some may deem as mysogenistic advertising featured a :30 spot called “Perfect Match”.” In the ad, the “sexy side” (represented by Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli) and the “smart side” (represented by “Walter” (Jesse Heiman)) come together for a 10 second liplock, complete with hypercontexualized sound effects. An interstital claims “when sexy meets smart, your small business scores” (double entendre implied). An extended version, featuring 30 seconds of kissing with tongue and rock and roll background music, was also made available via the GoDaddy web site.

So after watching the commercial, you may be thinking two things: 1) Ew, gross! 2) What does GoDaddy get out of that commercial if everyone is turned off? Is any buzz really “good” buzz?

USA Today rated the ad a 3.30 out of 10, placing it in the bottom five ads of Super Bowl evening, while the BrandBowl rated it 9 out of ?, placing it at #17 out of 43 ads, with increased sentiment of 64%. Around the internet and through all the MMQBing, GoDaddy was thought to have one of the worst Super Bowl ads (falling in line with Thought 1). But perhaps the ad was more genius than previously thought (falling in line with Thought 2). Forget the fact that we’re still talking about it the next day–here’s why I speculate this is so.

Peter McGraw, humor researcher at University of Colorado Boulder, has done research on a phenomenon called “benign violations”. These benign violations demonstrate some sort of normative deviance in which we are threatened by what we “ought to be” as long as the threat is benign. The Benign Violation Hypothesis necessitates a situation be “appraised as a violation” (model and geek makeout session in a Super Bowl ad), “appraised as benign” (there is distance between us, the viewing audience, and the offending parties, of which the offending parties have no direct impact), and “these two appraisals must occur simultaneously.”

Alright, so would speculate a benign violation here. We all went “ew”. But what about the real-time¬†viewer polling that showed a sharp increase in positive male sentiment (10 to 63%) versus female sentiment (10 to 24%)?

A line of research on transportation effects in advertising (Escalas 2004; 2007; Green and Brock 2000; Phillips and McQuarrie 2010) points to a phenomenon where consumers use advertising to construct mental representations of themselves in the context of the advertising. In particular, Escalas’s work assumes that consumers are “transported” into the realm of the advertisement, so that they mentally construe themselves in the role of the narrative’s main character. Phillips and McQuarrie take this notion further, suggesting that we reflect ourselves in the advertisement like a metaphoric mirror.

This starts to make sense now. Yes, the GoDaddy ad features a benign violation, but it also features a transportation effect. This effect has particular appeal to men–the typical target of a GoDaddy advertisement. So instead, GoDaddy splits the middle: on the one hand, we may all agree on the benign violation, but males (as evidenced by the polling) are willing to put that violation aside in favor of transporting themselves to a salacious lovefest with Bar Refaeli. For males, the momentary discomfort lapses and “what if I was Walter?” sets in, while females are left hanging uncomfortably for the commercial to end.

Indeed, it would be interesting to learn what traffic to GoDaddy’s website was, following the ad’s premiere–especially among different demographics. At the very least, the short version of the YouTube clip is nearing 7 million views, while the extended version is nearing 190,000.¬†Best Super Bowl ad? No. But it’s not the writeoff that many have proffered.